I believe that Puerto Rico has one of the longest Christmas seasons in the world. It lasts almost two months! While its official beginning cannot be tied to a specific date (the week leading up to Thanksgiving, perhaps?), the end of the season falls around January 14th. If the first day of Christmas is December 25th, and it ends on the Twelfth Night (Epiphany/Día de Reyes), we tack on eight extra days. In these eight days, known as las octavitas, people are still open to the idea of holiday themed meals and parties. The octavitas are then stretched until the third weekend of January, when the San Sebastian Street Festival takes place. This Old San Juan festival is a celebration of Puerto Rican culture: music, crafts, and food – all which happen to be key components of our Christmas traditions.
Falling in the middle of all the celebrations, Epiphany or Día de Reyes is one of our most cherished traditions. Many countries observe January 6th to commemorate the revelation of Baby Jesus to all nations, represented by the Three Wise Men or los Reyes Magos. To celebrate el Día de Reyes, I invited my family over for lunch last Friday. I asked my sister to bring her version of the popular seven-layer salad. My Mama and Tita (mi abuela) came over with appetizers. I prepared a slightly different version of the green pigeon pea risotto and a king cake. Eduardo and I drove to the friendly neighborhood lechonera for some roast pork and morcillas (blood sausage). I also bought half a dozen boiled green bananas – a great shortcut for the side dish featured in this post, pickled green bananas (guineos en escabeche). These briny bananas balanced our very rich holiday meal!
Green bananas (guineos) are not to be confused with plantains, the similar vegetable used to make tostones and mofongo. While their flavor may be similar, plantains are larger and starchier than bananas and always have to be cooked. Unlike ripe yellow bananas, which can be eaten raw, green guineos must be cooked before eating. This is a great tutorial on how to to peel and boil green bananas, plantains and other Caribbean root vegetables.
The cooked bananas macerate in an oil-and-vinegar brine with onion, garlic, peppercorns and bay leaves. This quick pickling method, known as escabeche, imparts a great acidity to the bland bananas. While the guineos can be enjoyed in as little as an hour after they are doused in this velvety liquid, they get better the longer they sit. This recipe can be easily doubled or tripled to feed a larger crowd.
Pickled Green Bananas – Guineos en Escabeche
(4-6 side dish servings)
- 6 green bananas, peeled and left whole
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 2 bay leaves
- 12 peppercorns
In a large pot, bring up at least two quarts of salted water to a boil. Add the green bananas and allow to cook until they can be easily pierced with a paring knife (about twenty minutes). Drain them and let cool until easy to handle. Slice the guineos into 1″ to 1.5″ long pieces.
Meanwhile, on a large skillet or medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and the garlic, and sautée until soft, about ten minutes. Add the vinegar, bay leaf and peppercorns and allow this mixture to simmer on low heat for twenty minutes. Let the pickling liquid cool until it reaches room temperature, and pour over the bananas. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.